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Leadership Thought #234 – Are You Spread Too Thin?


I’ve often heard the saying, “if you want something done give it to a busy person.”   While I am an advocate of applying the 80/20 principle in most circumstances, I believe the ratio is even greater in organizations and communities when it comes to overall effort and impact – it is more like 90/10 or higher.   Some people just seem to be hardwired to take on more responsibility.  They just can’t help themselves and have a difficult time saying “no.”  When they find a need they feel compelled to address it.  Poor performance isn’t an option for them and they work hard even no one else is watching.  While it’s great these people exist, I also worry that we expect too much from these individuals and in the end many of them end up suffering from burnout and/or too much stress.

There is only so much any one person can accomplish on a sustained basis. If you spread yourself too thing you’ll find yourself constantly falling behind and falling short of your own and other’s expectations.  Paradoxically, the harder you try the more difficult it becomes to catch up.  No one can be great at everything and eventually performance cracks will start to appear in your personal and professional foundation.  If you find yourself constantly balancing too many deadlines and feeling stressed rather than energized by your commitments, then you need to revaluate what you are doing and why.

We all reach a point of diminishing returns in our life and work where something has to give.  We can either do this proactively or by default.  Here are a few questions for you to consider:

How much time should you spend working every week and what are the eventual consequences of not having clear boundaries between work and personal time?

Are the financial benefits of the new promotion and/or business opportunity worth the time spent away from home and your family?

Should you do someone else’s job or create workarounds if they are consistently non-performing or strive to hold them accountable and make your concerns public?

Are certain clients no longer worth the time and effort required to make them happy?

Is it better to serve on one nonprofit board and make a tangible difference or volunteer for multiple boards and merely meet the most basic requirements?

Do your kids really need to spend their non-school time shuttling back and forth between multiple extra-curricular activities or should both of you be more selective and allow for more down time?

Are you spending enough time cultivating a strong relationship with your spouse/significant other or taking them for granted and assuming things are just fine until they are not?

How much time are you able to dedicate to regular exercise and your own health and well being?

My experience is that physical/emotional breakdowns happen gradually then all at once.  Someone seems to be chugging along just fine and we are all amazed by what they are able to accomplish and then something dramatic happens.  We are often surprised at first but then after further reflection we realize they were pushing themselves too hard and trying to do too much.

I am a fervent believe in hard work and dedication.  Poor performance should not be acceptable once you’ve committed yourself to do something.  However, maybe we all should be more selective and honest with ourselves about what we can realistically accomplish especially if we are that “Type A” person who has a hard time saying no.  In the quality versus quantity argument, I encourage you to lean towards quality as often as possible.

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2 Responses

  1. Great post Ed, I think people need to learn to set realistic goals and say NO more often.

    Thanks for the shout out about my blog post, honored to be part of such professional blog,

  2. […] Leadership Thought #234 – Are You Spread Too Thin? (edrobinson.wordpress.com) […]

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